Once again Rob has submitted another great article.
This information is something that all enthusiasts need to treasure.
MG T AND Y-TYPE CHROME WORK
Who did your chrome work? Where did you get the tyres? What sort of paint is it? It seems as T-Type and Y-Type owners we invariably have these questions directed to us particularly from the general public when our cars are in view. Never mind the years of work going into the various aspects of an MG’s overall restoration!
Sparkling chrome is undeniably attractive on our cars with large surface areas of chrome plating evident on radiator shells, head lamps, side lamps, spot/fog lamps and tail lamps. In many ways we are fortunate that MG and Lucas used brass alloy in the manufacture of most of these parts. At least brass doesn’t rust. I believe that high quality finishes on items that are chrome plated are generally a result of both personal input by the owner and a reputable electro-chrome plater. Although this aspect of restoration is often regarded as a tedious and difficult job, with a little theoretical knowledge and practical experience, most owners are capable of producing near perfect results if so desired. At Concours d’Elegance events I often hear people say that the chrome plated parts on our cars are better than new. However, close examination of factory photos suggests that the standard was exceptionally high in this regard.
Before starting any work on any brass parts, have the chrome, nickel etc. “stripped” off by a trusted electro-chrome plater. The care taken in the stripping stage is important. Poor stripping of unwanted plating can result in unnecessary pitted surfaces and/or thinning of the brass. Alert the plater if other types of casting alloy are attached to your brass piece. They may need to modify the electro stripping process.
The basic tools needed to restore brass parts on T-Types include a couple of wooden mallets (various sized heads), planishing hammer, new mill 2nd cut files of differing lengths, Jewellers files, and smooth wood (also steel) dollys of various shapes and sizes. Mill cut files are essential - they plane off, rather than tear off, minimal brass. This type of file preserves as much of the original gauge of the brass as possible. Small sandbags are useful for the beating action and help stabilise the job on the bench. I have used my wife’s old leather handbags, sand filled, with good results!
Whether working on a radiator shell, head lamps etc. the principle of removing dents and the re-shaping of parts is the same. Dents that have to beaten out should be eradicated with a wooden mallet first. Before delivering mallet blows, define the point in the surface of a dent where the major damaging impact occurred, and from which direction. Beat the brass back in a direct reversal to that situation. Use graduated lighter blows to the outer areas of the damage. Avoid delivering mallet or hammer blows whereby the brass is being squeezed against a backing dolly. As a general guide, gently strike with wood before using anything metallic. Sometimes you can even smooth out small areas with a spoon shaped dolly by employing an “ironing” movement rather than a hitting action.
If you find difficulty early on in the beating procedure and you are not achieving the desired results, annealing the part you are working on may keep any frustration under control! Bring the affected area to low red heat and let it cool out in air. Annealing in this way will enable you to move brass around like butter. Best not to quench brass objects as the alloy structure can be disturbed. After using mallets and dollys, planishing can occur. The planishing process smooths out minor imperfections in the surface of the brass. Light “glancing” or “slicing” taps, with a polished steel dolly located on the opposite surface of the job, will further improve results. Additional careful use of mill 2nd cut files should enable all imperfections to be eliminated.
Unwanted tears or holes in items such as a headlamp body or a radiator shell generally require silver brazing using Oxy-Acetylene. Blue Tip Brazing Alloy is an excellent product to use here. This is a hard solder as strong as the parent brass. Of course, the area to be worked on must be thoroughly cleaned to a bright shine before any work commences. By setting the oxygen and acetylene at low pressures, a flooding flame will result in getting a soft soaking red heat in the job. Silver Brazing Flux-General Purpose is the correct flux to use in this situation. Patient control will bring the item up to a suitable temperature (the melting point of the solder) so that an initial coating of silver alloy can at least be applied to the job. If you happen to oxide the work, stop immediately and mechanically re-clean the area. In the interests of your sanity, it is a good idea to practice brazing on brass sheets of the same gauge as the upcoming job before attempting any work on your precious part!
Ordinary Tinman’s Solder is not to be used on brass work requiring chrome plating. The chrome generally won’t take successfully. Instead, employ Silver Bearing Solder, which can be applied with a soldering bit. This is a low temperature, specific solder suitable for filling minor imperfections and should be applied sparingly. Alert the polisher/plater about the areas to which this solder has been used as it is softer than the brass.
(a) Radiator Shell
Initially, examine the shell for general shape, fit, and symmetry. Look at it in several planes - top, side and front view. Feel the outside and inside “walls” of the shell. Run your fingers along the frontal inner edges and feel for any depressions or lumps. Fingers are surprisingly sensitive to lumps, bumps and dents. This process gives clues as to any areas that are misshapen. In my experience, the flat upper right and left frontal panels of T-Type radiator shells have quite often been pushed inwardly by unsuspecting “helpers” when the car, for whatever reason, needs to be pushed backwards! Flat areas are so critical to the eye. Use 600 wet and dry abrasive paper to assist in obviating scores and tears. This paper is also useful in pinpointing/witnessing the location of small resultant dent mounds on the insides of the shell making the area to strike more accurate.
On TF’s in particular, it pays to bolt down the
nosing piece and the false radiator cap into position and check to see if any gaps
exist between the top shell panels and the nosing piece. By paneling the
nosing, a snug fit can be achieved. Similarly, the nosing piece for TC’s, TD’s
and Y-Types needs to be fitted up to the top of the radiator shell whilst paneling occurs to check fitting accuracy.
MGTF radiator shell snug nosing fit
Also on TF’s, where the cap fits onto the nosing piece, this area is often depressed. Left unattended, the cap will not pull down evenly. Use a round piece of wood of suitable diameter with a smooth surfaced end and tap the nosing top back to its original flat form.
The grille slats need to be examined for stone damage. Small stone chip indentations are the nastiest items of damage to rectify. Within reason, the bigger dents on shells are by far the easier to remove. However, as discussed in the foregoing, annealing the local area of the imperfection will allow you to work the grille slat damage more readily. Sometimes the original distances between the slats have been upset by accidents distorting the rib pressing and/or the slat fixing metal bracket ‘fingers’ (upper and lower) being re-set unevenly. Once recognised, these problems are easily fixed.
The centre spa of the shell is sometimes bent out of alignment. Again, annealing it enables relatively trouble-free rectification. T-Types in their racing days often had the centre spa removed. If the spa is missing, (including the hole for the crank handle) a new one can be fabricated on a former and then brazed into position on the shell.
The radiator cap has quite often been drilled or savagely linished resulting in the Octagon shape looking more like a circle! Attempts at repair of this item are possible but it is usually far more satisfactory to re-work a good second-hand cap. The reproduction caps available for TF’s at least, have not been of good quality in the past. TC reproduction caps on the other hand seem to have been done quite well.
Restored MGTF radiator and shell
(b) Head Lamps and Spot LampsThe same method of attack of applies to head lamp and spot lamp restoration. However, any riveted parts of the lamp really need to be released to allow easier access for those difficult to get at areas. New rivets can be turned up on a lathe to original head profile, size and material. With Lucas 576 Spot/Fog Lamps suitable for TD’s and TF’s, the crest casting on top of the lamp with the “Lucas” inscription is unfortunately not made out of brass. Ideally this can be carefully removed from the main body of the lamp by grinding off the internal riveting. Refitting of this crest piece can be achieved by tapping a fine thread into the two lands used by the factory for riveting. Small setscrews, with spring washers, can then be used to affix the crest piece back onto the lamp body after plating.
(c) Side LampsThe Lucas 1130 side lamps on T-Types usually have minimal damage. The common area of trouble is the rear pointed end of the lamp body. Dents here can be pushed out with fine dollys. If the lamp has been re-plated previously the brass at this part of the lamp can be quite thin, so Blue Tip Silver Brazing Alloy can be “floated/washed” inside the lamp with the torch after paneling has occurred. This strengthens the suspect area ready for buffing. Where the rim of the glass lens fits into the lamp body, check that it is circular in shape.
The original glass lenses of 1130 side lamps can be left in the brass rims for re-plating purposes. If the rims are dented, it is possible to make up a very fine bladed dolly so that you can get under the inside of the spun rim and “iron” the dents out. Alternatively, small dents can be filled with Silver Bearing Solder although I favour the dollying process. The body of the glass lens should have a rubber sealing ring fitted which helps to keep dust and water out of the lamp.
Restored 1130 side lamp body
(d) Late TD and TF Rear Light Plinths.
The light plinths located on the rear guards of late TD’s and all TF’s are invariably stricken with pitted or “measle-like” surfaces due to corrosion. These items are robust in structure, and although not cast in brass, are easily restored. File out all imperfections, paper off and then buff ready for chrome plating. Your original rear light plinths will fit the shape of the rear guard’s recess perfectly, whereas many of the reproduction units don’t fit well at all.
(e) Tail/Stop Lamp TC and Y-Type
The chrome plated body of the Lucas ST 51 Tail/Stop Lamp was usually made out of brass with originally one being used on the TC and two on the Y-Type. Over time, particularly with reference to TC’s, the lamp body was often damaged because of its low position on the rear of the car. However, through careful beating, filing, sanding, buffing and final re-chroming procedures, this unit can be effectively restored to as new condition.
The final stages of brass surface restoration are very important. In the interests of preserving the parent metal to the utmost it is worthwhile hand finishing all surfaces yourself. It is important to remember that polisher/platers can’t perform miracles on jobs that are roughly finished. Polishers are polishers. Don’t expect them to be beaters! Cork or foam rubbing blocks are useful when working with ‘wet and dry’ abrasive paper. Work your way through from the harsher to less abrasive grades such as 800 and 1000. At this stage, buffing can commence. I like to do my own buffing of brass items although this may not suit everyone. A 3-phase, 3-hp electric motor mounted on a pedestal gives good control. You only need a small range of sisal and softer cotton buffing mops to be successful. Buffing soap comes in various cutting grades designated by colour. The green soap works well on brass. Safety considerations while buffing are paramount. As all of you no doubt know, protective eyeglasses and a mask are essential apparel when using this type of machinery. Wedding rings, or for that matter any kind of rings on fingers, should not be worn during buffing procedures. For emergency stops, a “kill” switch located near your foot is recommended. Thin wire type parts such as the instrument surrounds on T-Types can be pinned to a stiff backboard for safe, controlled handling. I have found out the hard way that to do buffing late at night when one is fatigued, courts disaster. Do it earlier in the day when concentration levels are generally higher.
I usually visit the plater after the initial coating of copper has been applied to an item. This is particularly important in the case of critical finishes on radiator shells. The time is well spent as it allows you to have a final check regarding any potential problems before the nickel/chrome is finalised. Platers enjoy the ease of buffing the copper rather than the brass. It is softer and therefore easier to remove any remaining fine scores or scratches.
Some of you I guess are wondering why go to all this bother of restoring pieces for our cars when instead you could buy reproduction parts. In response all I can say is that while reproduction parts are readily available and may look reasonable off the car, original parts generally fit more accurately. Also, by doing the preparation of the items to be chrome plated yourself, you will inevitably save many dollars with an overall result of a higher standard of chrome finish.
TF 3719, TF 9177, TF 5164
Perth, Western Australia.
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